Speech by Minister of State, Community Development, Youth and Sports, Madam Halimah Yacob at the Finals of the RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship 2012 at Raffles City Convention Centre on April 28 (Saturday).
Ladies and Gentlemen
Boys and Girls
In celebrating a championship Singaporean speller, we are acknowledging the challenges of learning English in the digital age.
On the one hand, teachers might be happy that young people are doing more writing than ever – they write emails, texts messages, they do a lot of Tweeting and Facebook posting. But they also mourn the fact that the level of language skills used in these informal settings is appalling, suffering from lax standards.
In fact, these platforms even celebrate creative misspelling – it’s as though the worse you spell, the cooler you are. G-R-8 is meant to spell “great”. Forever is represented by the alphanumeric “4-E-V-A”, thank you has been reduced to “T-H-N-X”. They even incorporate instant-messenger speak into conversation, saying the letters L-O-L – or laugh out loud – when they find something funny. You know that this degeneration deserves our panic when that already lazy term “whatever” has even been shortened to “whatevs”.
Spellers in this competition buck that trend. They have all worked so hard to make it to this stage, studying dictionaries and wordlists, and drilling themselves. That impressive vocabulary and attention to accuracy tells us they are invested in mastering the language, not just mashing it up. Despite being digital natives, they are not slaves to technology. Quite the opposite: they take spelling very seriously, and all deserve top honours.
They represent a cross-section of this country’s primary schools, and have pulled through many weeks of competition. In addition to their considerable skill, they have also demonstrated bravery and good sportsmanship by playing a good game. That alone is an achievement, never mind the results. So, if you did not make it as far as you wanted, take heart. After you dry your tears, congratulate yourself for having done your very best. You have nothing to be ashamed of, for it is through competition that you discover resilience and perseverance.
After all, the ultimate aim of the RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship is to build a formidable vocabulary. In preparing for the finals, you have accomplished that and more. You have shown true grit. Indeed, competitive spelling is a battleground worthy of any star athlete, and over the weeks, you have impressed everyone watching with your determination. To stand in front of a critical audience and judges, then articulate a series of often confusing letters in the correct order, that is no mean feat, as I have witnessed just a few moments ago. It takes nerves. Your devotion to excellence is something even adults can learn from.
Few of your elders would have been able to do the same – we have become so dependent on all the spell checks embedded in our software. Perhaps parents of today’s spellers can at least take comfort in knowing that if something untoward ever happened to their technological devices, they can turn to their children for the correct spelling.
Indeed, they are experts. As their supporters, we share their pride in having made it this far. They represent the need for us to raise the standards of English language, starting at its most atomic level – getting our spelling right.
I am heartened that the RHB Banking Group and The Straits Times have undertaken the work of raising the profile of the National Spelling Championship. That collaboration with the Ministry of Education has doubled the number of pupils taking part from about 600 to 1,200, and enabled more young experts to take part at the Zonal and Final rounds too. Through it they have inspired us to revisit our love for the English language, and appreciate the pastiche of cultures that these words represent. In the process pupils have developed spelling strategies, an understanding of etymology, and raised the bar for this type of mind sport.
I congratulate today’s winners, they are pioneers at this year’s inaugural effort. I also thank their teachers and parents for their support throughout the process. I am confident that this year’s championship will spark a spelling mania in Singapore, and I wish all participants continued success in their learning efforts.